Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Long lines at city H1N1 clinics

Opening-day vaccine rush settles down

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Thousands of people across Manitoba rolled up their sleeves Monday to begin the great mass H1N1 vaccination of 2009.

In Winnipeg, 4,000 people were vaccinated by 3 p.m. Lineups stretched out the door to parking lots and waits were an hour or more at some locations when clinics opened.

But by late morning, the clinics settled down to a steady flow. At the Portage Avenue location, the wait time by mid-morning was 40 minutes, and there were enough chairs available to keep everyone comfortable.

In East Kildonan, the wait at a Munro Avenue church hall was about 45 minutes in the early afternoon.

The vaccine program is expected to run the next four to six weeks.

The rush of people the first day caused a nursing shortage, and some nurses not scheduled for the opening shift were called in at the last minute.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority also put out the call for more volunteers in the coming days to help with greeting the public, assisting with registration and consent forms, and observing the post-immunization wait.

"There are a number of things we learned the first day, like the need for better signage... " said Heidi Graham, spokeswoman for the WRHA.

Also, some sites are getting more traffic, so the WRHA will allocate its resources accordingly, she said. It's too early to say when the best times to visit are but she said mid-morning and mid-afternoon may be slowest.

Since children are one of the largest recommended groups for early vaccination, clinics were filled with strollers, toddlers and young mothers.

Michelle Vancaeseele, who arrived at the Grant Avenue clinic at mid-morning with her two-and-a-half-year-old son Mark, said her son is "like most kids" when it comes to needles, but there was no question she wanted to be immunized.

"The risks are quite small and are far outweighed by the potential benefits," said Vancaeseele. "We're going to take our chances. Mark and I are getting it done (Monday morning) and my husband is getting his later this week."

In northern Manitoba, the Burntwood Regional Health Authority opened clinics in Thompson at noon Monday and traffic was "pretty steady," said Blake Ellis, authority spokesman.

The clinics expect to be very busy in the initial weeks because 70 per cent of the Burntwood health authority's population of 45,000 is aboriginal and considered at greater risk. Clinics will also be flown to remote communities like Lake Brochet and Thicket Portage.

The recommended groups to receive immunization within the first weeks are those with heart disease, people with aboriginal and Métis ancestry, and children over six months and under five years of age. For the elderly, just in case the location you go to does not have enough chairs available, perhaps choose to bring a walker with a seat on it.

All that is needed to get the shot is a Manitoba Health Card.

Volunteers and nurses all wear fluorescent vests to guide and keep everything moving.

But flu-shot clinics didn't open in all parts of the province on Monday. Regions like Brandon, the Parkland, northeastern and southeastern Manitoba, don't open their clinics until today.

And in Central Manitoba, including Portage la Prairie, the Pembina Valley and six First Nations, immunization clinics don't open until Wednesday.

"The directive from the province was to have clinics open the week of Oct. 26, not on Oct. 26. (Opening later) was just a better fit for us as far as our resources," said Kathy McPhail, CEO of the Regional Health Authority -- Central Manitoba.

Clinics were active in southwestern Manitoba as well. The Assiniboine Regional Health Authority is doing clinics by appointment, so it knows how much vaccine is needed at any of its 11 clinics, said CEO Penny Gilson.

An Angus Reid poll released Monday said 39 per cent of Canadians and more than half of Americans do not plan to get the vaccine. A lack of confidence in the product is the main reason given. But a third of Canadians say they are not concerned about contracting the virus.

Winnipeg has 12 clinics and most have the same operation hours of Monday to Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Meanwhile, Canada announced Monday it is importing adjuvant-free H1N1 vaccine from Australia for pregnant women, hoping to be able to offer that product sooner than if it waits for unadjuvanted vaccine from Canada to make it through the licensing process.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca eva.cohen@freepress.mb.ca

"ö BRITISH COLUMBIA: Long lines were the norm at vaccination clinics, and some were even turned away due to vaccine shortages. In the Vancouver area, turnout was higher than expected and one clinic had to turn people away. At a downtown Vancouver clinic, people waited up to 40 minutes.

 

"ö ALBERTA: Residents waited up to four hours to be vaccinated. Clinics in Calgary stopped anyone new from lining up after 5 p.m., and clinics were still to stay open until 11 p.m. to deal with the backlog. Alberta had asked that high-risk groups get their shot first, but had also said no one would be turned away.

 

"ö SASKATCHEWAN: Mass vaccinations of people involved in health care began Monday, amid concerns voiced by some workers. By next week, the vaccine will be offered to about 120,000 people with high-risk conditions.

 

"ö ONTARIO: An Ottawa clinic had to turn away prospective patients after it became clear by mid-afternoon the wait time was about four hours, and nurses would not be able to immunize everyone by closing time.

 

"ö QUEBEC: In Montreal, a delay in the delivery of the H1N1 vaccine meant 155,000 doses were only shipped out Monday. Vaccination is to start Wednesday.

 

"ö NEW BRUNSWICK: Thousands of nurses, doctors and medical specialists took an H1N1 shot in the arm.

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 27, 2009 A3

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